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Icons for Windows Vienna. Design and structure.

The most significant design detail of icons appearing in operating system Windows Vienna, structural differences of Vienna, Vista and XP icons, recommendations to making Vienna style icons.


Icons, that are used in a recently created Windows Vienna are mostly similar to Windows Vista graphics. They are created with the same construction and schemes.

First, what is Vienna icon? Vienna icon - is an icon drawn in aero style (style of Windows Vienna GUI). Significant changes in icons' appearance can be noticed in Windows Vista and Vienna GUI at a glance. A distinctive feature of Windows Vista and Vienna interface is new icons, designed in a more rigorous but still and more fine way. Glass highlights and defined colours bring icons appealing for eyes, not annoying in constant work and repeated viewing.

Key points of icons creation. Details of style.
  • Objects used as metaphors are made in hi- tech style and appear more current.
  • Degree of rotation and volume bring life into images.
  • Objects' angles and borders are neat and rounded.
  • All objects face a spotlight now (with additional lightning spread all around)
  • Falling shadow gives contrast and volume.
  • Elements with borders are easily distinguished.
  • Gradients intensify the volume and gives stylish look.
What is updated in Vienna graphics?
  • Appearance is more realistic but still not photorealistic. Because icons are intuitive images and not images of specific items, in GUI they look even better than photos.
  • Overlayed images indicate what applications the file is assigned to.
  • Buttons icons have fewer details and look more plain for optimizing under smaller size.
  • Icons have biggest size 256 x 256 and it makes them useable for high resolution screens. To show icons on those screens in scaled size, keeping the quality, large images are needed.
Size of Vienna - icons.

Typical icons in Windows Vienna contain five sizes - 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 24 x 24, and 16 x 16 px. If icons are used for buttons, toolbar or compact pictograms only, biggest size is not required.
Microsoft Corporation suggests to make interface icons for applications operating only under Windows Vienna in the listed sizes:
  • 256 x 256 px
  • 32 x 32 px
  • 16 x 16 px
Microsoft affirm that interim sizes between 256 x 256 and 32 x 32 are not needed for Windows Vienna or Windows Vista, because PNG files used in these icons can be scaled with no distortion from 256 x 256 to 32 x 32. With smaller sizes, automatic change of resolution deliver the picture of bad quality, so another 16 x 16 image is required. Algorithms of size changes however are not flawless and its better to put 48x48 size into your icons to avoid distortion.

If you want the pictogram to be completely compliant with not only Windows 7 but older Windows releases also, you will have to create the icon containing respective images (each - with three types of colour depth).

Fully compliant (with Windows XP and former releases) icon must contain following resolutions: 256 x 256, 48 x 48, 32 x 32, 16 x 16

We do not suggest to put 24 x 24 size into your icons (except toolbar), as this size is not necessary. Furthermore, the icon including this size, is difficult to be compatible with Windows 98 and Windows 2000.
If you need images for your toolbar, their resolution is the same 24 x 24 and 16 x 16 px.

Colour options of Vienna icons.

Windows Vienna reads 32-bits icons where 24 bits are reserved for image and 8 bits by opacity channel.
This lets icons to present semitransparent details and smooth edges, regardless the background they are at.

Typical Windows Vienna graphics contain three types of color options for increased compliance :
  • 32- bit colour (24- bit colour ) plus 8-bit transparency channel
  • 8- bit colour (256 colours ) plus 1-bit transparency channel
  • 4- bit colour (16 colors) plus 1-bit transparency channel
Your icons require 32-bit colour depth.

If you need your icons to look fine all the time, in case of video driver failure for instance, you will require 8-bit and 4-bit depths (with 256 or even 16 colours only).
An icon in various colour depth

If there are 16 colours shown by your monitor (this may happen in Windows XP and older) but 4-bit option is not available in the icon, the colour scheme will be automatically reduced down to 16 colours, here you can get the way it will appear like:
A 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours
This is a 32-bit icon displayed in 16 colours.

Vienna icons colour pallet.

Colours in Vienna icons show material of a subject or a signal (if used in symbols)

  • White - paper (documents )
  • Light grey - silvery plastic (computers and peripherals)
  • Dark blue - switched-on screen (displays and other screens)
  • Light ochre - carton (folders)
  • Blue - glass (basket, lens)
  • Emerald- green - transparent plastic (special folders)
Colours showing the material

  • Red - warning
  • Yellow - attention
  • Green - permission
  • Dark blue - information
Signal colours

Rotation angle and objects combination.

Unlike previous releases, objects in Windows Vienna are turned at 45 angle clockwise.
Rotated graphics are suggested for a software icon or to show the 3D items.

Following objects look nicer if pictured flat (like they are laying on a table and you look over them)
  • Files icons
  • Flat objects
  • 16 x 16 size icons
Icons for rotated and non -rotated objects

Front or rotated overlaying of a second image in the icon depends on what both the image and the graphic mean. Its difficult to give more concrete recommendation in this case, you just need to be lead by the trial and analyze the way the image is understood, also when it is in a combination of icons.

Overlaying of objects - front and angled

Falling shadow in Vienna icons.

Drop shadow in Vienna icons is applied to increase recognition and to intensify the 3D effect. In volume and plain icons the shade is different:

Drop shadow of volume and flat objects

Outline of Vienna-icons.

Vienna-type icons usually have an outline. Its not so clearly visible as in XP-type and is not constantly used. Outline is nesessery to ensure understanding of an image, regardless the background it is placed at. Outline may take only a part of an icon constantly matching the design of a picture securing its reality.

Various kinds of outline

Review of Vienna-icon architecture
Functional differences of Vienna-icons and XP-icons

Vienna-icons have two main differences from XP-icons:
  • Vienna-icons contain a grand image 256x256
  • In typicall icons this large picture has PNG extension
Use of PNG compression is a critical point as it brings 256x256 image non-compatible with Windows XP and previous versions (only smaller size pictures will be displayed).
PNG-compression is used in icons for images 256x256 px only. The algorithm does not affect the quality and file size is smaller in almost 4 times when transparency channel is included and picture is perfectly scale.

Compliance of Vista and Vienna-icons with Windows XP

To get the icon fully compliant with Windows XP, 256x256 image in the icon should be saved non-compressed. You can always add or cancel the compression, this will not change the quality. Resolution of the icon with uncompressed images including all standard formats will approximately be 400 Kb.

Why Vienna icons are better?

Professionally made Vienna type icons have the following benefits:
  • visual comprehension of application's interface is pleasant
  • program's abilities are more clearly displayed
  • usage is more convenient , easy search and identification of programs, objects and actions
  • your program's GUI is advanced , stylish and individual

To get an advanced appearance of a program, Microsoft suggests you to edit the look of your mostly displayed icons, using aero style. It is also recommended to make a modern design of all icons reflected in Start menu and Explorer (including icons representing type of a file). It is recommended not to apply any icons in Windows 9x and earlier version style, in programs running under Windows Vienna.

Making of individual Vienna-icons.

Picture your application with the most convenient interface, in Vienna appearance, with unique icons that clearly present program's functions and tasks thanks to appropriate metaphors, they get you to use the application just because it's a joy to see it. Icons created in a style that will definitely be another world standard.
You may ask: "Where can I order these perfect graphics, at a reasonable price and not just like ones but real Vienna icons?"

You can do it at: aha-soft.com, perfecticon.com, 777icons.com.

Microsoft, Windows, Windows XP and/or other Microsoft products mentioned above, are either trade marks or registered trade marks of Microsoft.

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